I have been involved with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters® courses since 2005, when, initially it was called “Operation Frontline.” Recently, I taught my 18th series for the course, and with each class of students I learn something new.
Cooking Matters taps the expertise of culinary and nutrition experts who volunteer to help course participants identify and prepare nutritious, low-cost ingredients in ways that deliver the best nourishment. Last June I was recognized by Sodexo Foundation as one of five Heroes of Everyday Life® specifically for my work volunteering as a nutrition instructor with Cooking Matters Massachusetts.
It’s difficult to describe what that meant to me. I felt so honored to be nominated by my supervisor, the National Director of Sodexo Dietetic Internships and the Massachusetts director of Cooking Matters. Together they confirmed my passion and demonstrated Sodexo’s commitment to frontline volunteering in the campaign against hunger. The recognition meant a lot to me.
One of the reasons that Cooking Matters is so important to me is because of the very positive and practical impact it allows me to have on the people in my community. Each class series is led by a nutritionist or dietitian and chef providing nutrition education and hands-on cooking lessons.
My favorite class takes place during week four, where we cover the importance of breakfasts. The Chef shows the participants how to create a vegetable frittata, carrot pineapple muffins or oatmeal pancakes, and smoothies. This is also the time when we cover unit pricing in anticipation of the following week’s supermarket tour. By this time in the 6-week series, the participants know the staff and each other and they really start to enjoy cooking and talking nutrition together. By now, all of the participants have an opinion, questions or both. In fact, at this point they are answering more than they are asking, and they are teaching one another.
A participant once said that Cooking Matters made her miss home because she lives alone here in the U.S., but came from a large family where everyone was always in the kitchen. Once a week, our work made her feel like part of a big happy family in the kitchen. For her, the course was not only about finding affordable nutrition strategies. To her what really matters is the connection between the food and the people – using it to bond, support and help one another. I’m proud to say that Sodexo sees the value in that connection as well, and all of the volunteer work that its employees do to provide communities with access to nutritious food.
Sodexo Foundation honored me for my work with Cooking Matters and presented me with a $5000 grant to benefit the hunger-relief agency of my choice. I designated Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters of Massachusetts as the recipient of those funds.
I hope other Sodexo managers, and frontline workers will do what my supervisor did for me. Nominate a Sodexo employee who is working to end hunger as a Hero. Self-nominations from employees are perfectly acceptable as well.
Phyll Dondis Ribakoff, RD, LDN is the associate director of the Sodexo Distance Education Dietetic Internship and a 2012 Hero of Everyday Life. Check out the Cooking Matters videos that Hero Phyll stars in: